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Friday, May 23, 2014

The I-5 Skagit River Bridge Collapse

On May 23, 2013, the Skagit River Bridge between Mount Vernon and Burlington, WA collapsed, illustrating the dire need for improved maintenance and upgrading of America's highway system.
A year ago tonight, no one could have guessed a near tragedy was about to occur.

It was a typical late spring night in the Skagit Valley of Washington State. An idyllic place this time of year, very laid back and the end of the evening rush hour was winding down and people were coming home to enjoy their evenings.  Yours Truly had just crossed this very bridge only a few hours earlier.

Suddenly at 7:00pm, a truck carrying an oversize load rammed a lower truss at the entry point of the southbound lanes of the Skagit River Bridge on Interstate 5, causing the north section of the bridge to buckle and destabilize off it's pilings. The truck which caused the accident successfully crossed the bridge. The vehicles behind the truck weren't so lucky.

Fortunately, aside from a few minor injuries and ruined vehicles, no one was killed.

But it magnified a long festering problem with America's highway bridges; Many are dangerously old, obsolete, and long in need of upgrading and replacement.

The news shocked America and made headlines worldwide. But none were shocked more than the people of Skagit County and it's two most populous cities, Mount Vernon and Burlington which were connected by the bridge. The bridge was also a vital trade and travel link between Vancouver, Canada and Seattle.  

The I-5 Skagit River Bridge was long overdue for a modern replacement and considered functionally obsolete. Built in 1955, it was constructed at a time when there were far fewer vehicles on America's highways. The truss height at the bridge's southbound entry was 14'7" The height of the truck trailer was several inches higher.
The southbound portion of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge just before the collapse. The truck was in the outer lane and struck the curved truss.
The trucker was employed by Mullen Trucking, was hauling an over-dimensional load containing a housing for drilling equipment. The company's vice-president, Ed Sherbinski, said permits were issued from Washington State that included clearance for all bridge crossings on the route.The truck had been led over the bridge by a pilot escort vehicle. A spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation said there are no warning signs leading up to the bridge regarding its clearance height. In Washington, only overcrossings of less than 14 feet are required to have advance postings of height restrictions.
The oversize truck also damaged a sway strut of the second span, but not enough to initiate a collapse. That span is being repaired, and all three remaining spans are returning to full use. (Wikipedia)

Inspectors inspecting the Canadian semi which caused the bridge collapse.
It was a miserable summer of taking slow detours, exiting on College Way in Mount Vernon and George Hopper Rd. in Burlington to take the Riverside bridge and getting back on I-5 from either side. Traffic was snarled from Everett to Bellingham, WA as a result.

We never did get the brand new permanent bridge we were promised (It was a battle with the Canadian insurance company to get what we were owed.) All we got was a replacement section.

Today, the bridge has been renamed the Trooper Sean O'Connell Memorial Bridge, after a state trooper who was killed while directing traffic around the bridge.

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